Child physical activity statistics for 2020 are not looking good. According to a study published recently in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, kids in the United States are not getting enough sleep or physical activity. And, no surprise, they’re spending too much time staring at screens.
Researchers utilized data from the 2016–2017 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH). The NSCH provides data on varying aspects of children’s lives from a representative sample of US children. Information is obtained through reporting from parents.
The behavior of more than 49,000 children was analyzed and revealed that only 1 in 10 children adheres to the recommended physical activity, recreational screen time, and sleep.
- At least 60 minutes of physical activity
- No more than 2 hours of screen time
- 9–12 hours per day of sleep for individuals aged 6–12 years
- 8–10 hours for those aged 13–17 years
Only 8.8% of children in the US meet all three guidelines. While 86% of kids are getting enough sleep, a mere 23% get enough physical activity. Not surprisingly, screen time guidelines are met by an underwhelming 32.9% of children. Furthermore, adherence to the guidelines declines as kids get older. These poor behaviors may predispose them to health risks at an early age.
The pandemic has not helped matters. With the increase in virtual learning, screen time has increased for much of the country’s youth. Most organized youth sports have been canceled for the time being. Parents are facing a real conundrum, and experts encourage them to make exercise a family affair.
“Parents need to get creative with things the whole family can do to increase physical activity across the course of the day,” Ciarán Friel, EdD, assistant investigator at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and lead researcher of the study tells Parentology. “The older the kids are, the more involved they should be in this decision-making process. And remember, all kids are more likely to be active when other family members are too.”
Friel suggests simple, easy fixes, like going on a family walk around the block to a playground during the time you normally spent traveling to school. Adding a couple recess breaks within a day could also help.
Issues with Screen Time
Parents face a delicate balance with limiting recreational screen time. Children may feel they are being punished by having fun screen time curtailed because they are required to spend time doing school work on the computer.
“Current screen time guidelines were designed for a pre-pandemic life,” Friel admits. “But I think it’s important to recognize that too much screen time may have a negative impact on children’s health, and to that end, it is important to look at how much ‘recreational’ screen time children are having. I haven’t seen any data yet on children’s screen time during COVID, but I would guess that recreational screen time has also increased on top of all the school/educational screen time, and that is worrying.”
Friel encourages parents to set an example by making sure they get enough sleep and physical activity, and limit their own screen time as well.
“This is a stressful time, and it is important for our bodies to be as healthy as possible,” she says. “Children model their behavior off of us, so we can’t expect them to follow guidelines if we don’t. But we need to recognize that these are unprecedented times and we just have to try to do our best, and figure out how to help our children during what is a very intense period of their lives.”
Child Physical Activity Statistics for 2020 — Sources
American Journal of Preventative Medicine – U.S. Children Meeting Physical Activity, Screen Time and Sleep Guidelines
CDC – Physical Activity Guidelines for School-Aged Children and Adolescents
AAP – American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use
CDC – How Much Sleep Do I Need?